There is an ongoing debate regarding the nature of man. Some believe that man is inherently good. It is only because of the unfortunate situations that he may be forced to endure, that causes him to act in an undesirable way. But every individual, if treated with love and kindness, will tap into this goodness and behave in an exemplary fashion. He will contribute to society in a positive way, and he will certainly not harm others.
The other school of thought happens to coincide with the Torah and traditional Jewish beliefs. Man has the potential for good, but there is evil in the world. If one does not actively work at fighting evil, it can consume a person to the point where he epitomizes evil. Adolf Hitler would be one example of pure evil, but, unfortunately, many are not far behind in their essences and in their conduct in this world.
If we examine the Torah, our introduction to evil comes with the sin of Adam and Eve. They are commanded not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge “that allows one to know good and bad.” Once they sinned, evil now existed in the world as a challenge to man. If he overcomes it, he has the potential to become righteous. If he succumbs to it, he becomes wicked.
At the end of the Book of Deuteronomy, we are told that G-d places choices before us between the curse and death and the blessing and life. We are commanded to “choose life”. Again, it is made clear that it is in our hands to make the right choices. The wrong choice attaches us to curses and death.
We are also given a commandment to utterly destroy Amalek. The Rabbis tell us that Amalek, Satan, the evil eye, the evil inclination, and the Sitra Achara, known as the “dark side” in Kabbalistic terminology, are all one and the same, evil. Only when they are destroyed, will goodness reign in the world.
The Prophets and Scriptures clearly point out that G-d created evil in this world. In Isaiah 45:7 it is written, “I am the One Who forms light and creates darkness; Who makes peace and creates evil.” And in Lamentations 3:38 it is written, “Is it not from the Most High that evil and good emanate!”
The Talmud in Tractae Kiddushin clearly states that G-d created the evil inclination and created Torah as its antidote. The Baal Hatanya, the first of the Chabad rabbis that began its dynasty, writes that G-d reluctantly created evil in the world for the sole purpose of rewarding the righteous and punishing the wicked.
Judaism believes in free will and overcoming temptations. Every Jew has the potential to reach the highest level of holiness if he works at it tirelessly. But man may use his free will to sink to a level lower than the animal. Those who have succeeded at achieving sanctity, have done it by making this a priority in life. They study G-d’s laws and the teachings of our sages constantly. They are always on guard to treat people well and to work on their character.
If one is not actively striving for good, but instead allows his lusts and desire for instant gratification to rule him, he will be far from holy, to say the least. As is written in the Book of Job. 5:7, “Man was born to struggle.” If we do not battle to do what is right, we are likely to fall. And it is possible to fall very hard.
Another interesting proof about man’s nature, comes from the Torah as well. Lavan, the father in-law of Jacob is remembered as a liar and a cheat. Some commentators felt that he and Bilaam were the same person. At one point, he intended to harm Jacob. G-d appears to him in a dream and tells him that he better leave Jacob alone if he knows what’s good for him. He tells Jacob about the dream but he still remains wicked.
The lesson here is that if a person is not interested in changing his nature, G-d Himself will not be able to change it. Any normal person who merited a revelation from G-d, should certainly become a believer. However, this will not happen when one has chosen the “curse and death.”
It is both shocking and horrifying to hear educated people make excuses for the most despicable animalistic behavior that we have been witnessing. How naive and foolish can people be to think that economic opportunity and ending the Occupation, is going to turn savage killers into saints. We have to call this terrorism what it is: pure evil in its lowest form. Murdering a thirteen year old girl in her sleep and gunning down a father of ten should evoke nothing but outrage.
Some say that we need to remove the leaders that incite and re-educate the Palestinian people to learn to live peacefully with us. Perhaps this is true but we don’t have the luxury of waiting around. Every Jewish life is precious. Rewarding or condoning evil, will not eliminate evil. It will increase it. We must not fool ourselves and minimize the battle we are up against. We must be strong and tenacious. What we are facing is a war between good and evil and life and blessing. Therefore, we must choose life!